I have just
been rereading, with great interest, an old favourite of my boyhood, The Green Curve
by Ole Luk-Oie. Ole Luk-Oie was the pseudonym of Major Swinton
(afterwards General Swinton), who was, I believe, one of the rather numerous people
credited with the invention of the tank. The stories in this book, written about 1908, are
the forecasts of an intelligent professional soldier who had learned the lessons of the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War, and it
is interesting to compare them with what actually happened a few years later.
One story, written as early as 1907 (at which date no aeroplane
had actually risen off the ground for more than a few seconds), describes an air raid. The
aeroplanes carry eight-pounder bombs! Another story, written in the same year, deals with
a German invasion of England, and I was particularly interested to notice that in this
story the Germans are already nicknamed Huns. I had been inclined to attribute
the use of the word Hun, for Germans, to Kipling, who certainly used
it in the poem that he published during the first week of the last war.
In spite of the efforts of several newspapers, Hun
has never caught on in this war, but we have plenty of other offensive nicknames. Someone
could write a valuable monograph on the use of question-begging names and epithets, and
their effect in obscuring political controversies. It would bring out the curious fact
that if you simply accept and apply to yourself a name intended as an insult, it may end
by losing its insulting character. This appears to be happening to Trotskyist,
which is already dangerously close to being a compliment. So also with Conchy
during the last war. Another example is Britisher. This word was used for
years as a term of opprobrium in the anglophobe American press. Later on, Northcliffe and others,
looking round for some substitute for Englishman which should have an
imperialistic and jingoistic
flavour, found Britisher ready to hand, and took it over. Since then the word
has had an aura of gutter patriotism, and the kind of person who tells you that what
these natives need is a firm hand also tells you that he is proud to be a
Britisher which is about equivalent to a Chinese Nationalist describing
himself as a Chink.
A leaflet recently received from the Friends Peace Committee states that if the
current scheme to remove all Poles from the areas to be taken over by the U.S.S.R., and,
in compensation, all Germans from the portions of Germany to be taken over by Poland, is
put into operation, this will involve the transfer of not less than seven million
Some estimates, I believe, put it higher than this, but let us
assume it to be seven millions. This is equivalent to uprooting and transplanting the
entire population of Australia, or the combined populations of Scotland and Ireland. I am
no expert on transport or housing, and I would like to hear from somebody better qualified
a rough estimate (a) of how many wagons and locomotives, running for how long, would be
involved in transporting those seven million people, plus their livestock, farm machinery
and household goods; or, alternatively, (b) of how many of them are going to die of
starvation and exposure if they are simply shipped off without their livestock, etc.
I fancy the answer to (a) would show that this enormous crime
cannot actually be carried through, though it might be started, with confusion, suffering
and the sowing of irreconcilable hatreds as the result. Meanwhile, the British people
should be made to understand, with as much concrete detail as possible, what kind of
policies their statesmen are committing them to.
A not-too-distant explosion shakes the house, the windows rattle in their sockets, and
in the next room the 1964 class wakes up and lets out a yell or two. Each time this
happens I find myself thinking, Is it possible that human beings can continue with
this lunacy very much longer? You know the answer, of course. Indeed, the difficulty
nowadays is to find anyone who thinks that there will not be another war in the
fairly near future.
Germany, I suppose, will be defeated this year, and when Germany
is out of the way Japan will not be able to stand up to the combined power of Britain and
the U.S.A. Then there will be a peace of exhaustion, with only minor and unofficial wars
raging all over the place, and perhaps this so-called peace may last for decades. But
after that, by the way the world is actually shaping, it may well be that war will become
permanent. Already, quite visibly and more or less with the acquiescence of all of us,
the world is splitting up into the two or three huge super-states forecast in James
Burnhams Managerial Revolution. One cannot draw their exact boundaries as
yet, but one can see more or less what areas they will comprise. And if the world does
settle down into this pattern, it is likely that these vast states will be permanently at
war with one another, though it will not necessarily be a very intensive or bloody kind of
war. Their problems, both economic and psychological, will be a lot simpler if the
doodlebugs are more or less constantly whizzing to and fro.
If these two or three super-states do establish themselves, not
only will each of them be too big to be conquered, but they will be under no necessity to
trade with one another, and in a position to prevent all contact between their nationals.
Already, for a dozen years or so, large areas of the earth have been cut off from one
another, although technically at peace.
Some months ago, in this column, I pointed out that modern
scientific inventions have tended to prevent rather than increase international
communication. This brought me several angry letters from readers, but none of them were
able to show that what I had said was false. They merely retorted that if we had Socialism, the aeroplane,
the radio, etc. would not be perverted to wrong uses. Very true, but then we havent
Socialism. As it is, the aeroplane is primarily a thing for dropping bombs and the radio
primarily a thing for whipping up nationalism. Even before the war there was enormously
less contact between the peoples of the earth than there had been thirty years earlier,
and education was perverted, history rewritten and freedom of thought suppressed to an
extent undreamed of in earlier ages. And there is no sign whatever of these tendencies
Maybe I am pessimistic. But, at any rate, those are the thoughts
that cross my mind (and a lot of other peoples too, I believe) every time the
explosion of a V bomb booms through the mist.
A little story I came upon in a book.
Someone receives an invitation to go out lion-hunting.
But, he exclaims, I havent lost any lions!